Sermon 10/6/19: Returning to Real

Pr. Ben Adams

Blessing of the Animals in Printers Row Park

October 6, 2019

Returning to Real

Let me once again welcome everyone to our third annual blessing of the animals in Printers Row Park! My name is Pastor Ben Adams and on behalf of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and Reverend Amity Carrubba and the Grace Episcopal Church community, we are so glad you and your animals are here with us today for a blessing!  We do this celebration of our pets and animals each year right around this time because today is the closest Sunday to October 4th, the Feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. Now, our understanding of St. Francis might be more myth than truth, but he is well known among other things for his love of animals, and he has even been deemed the patron saint of ecology because of his commitment to all of God’s creation.

And speaking of creation, we heard a pretty well-known story as our first reading this morning, the creation story from Genesis.  Now we only got a snapshot, as we stuck to the part of the story that was focused on God’s work of creating every living thing, and that makes sense, to root our worship in the creation story as we celebrate St. Francis and our animals, but because we focused only on the creation story in Genesis, we didn’t get to the juicy, scandalous, apple eating part of the story, but we all knew it was coming.

And even though we didn’t read that far, its this part of the story, the part where Adam and Eve eat the apple from the tree of knowledge, that I’d like to give some attention this morning. And just so you know that I’m not avoiding the elephant in the room, it certainly is not lost on me that we are talking about the story of the fall and Adam and Eve picking apples, at the very time of year where many of us enjoy the season of Fall by going and picking apples. So it’s a timely and relatable story to say the least. But I digress.

In his book, How Jesus Saves the World From Us, author Morgan Guyton writes this about the fall of Adam and Eve, “Until children lose their innocence, they live in a world without mirrors… As we get older, we lose the delight and wonder of childhood… This loss of innocence so endemic to the human experience is captured in the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. This story explains the tragic heart of the human condition. The self-consciousness that sets us apart from other animals.”

The self-consciousness that sets us apart from other animals. Just think about that for a second, before Adam and Eve eat the apple, they don’t even realize that they are naked, they’re pretty carefree, just letting it all hang out without a second thought of what the neighbors would think. But after they eat the apple, they cover themselves with fig leaves. It’s this curse of self-consciousness that Adam and Eve acquire as a result of eating the apple. This curse of self-consciousness acquired by Adam and Eve is one that I am willing to bet each of us know all too well.

Because there’s not one of us here that hasn’t felt the pressure of self-consciousness, after all, we’ve all been through middle school, so I know you know what I’m talking about. And while self-consciousness may very well reach its peak in our adolescent years, it hangs around and haunts us and we still find ourselves living behind masks of social performance.  Maybe for you that is most acute in school or at work where you have to put on the mask of “professionalism.”  Putting on our best clothes and our make up to meet the expectations of others, its exhausting.  Now I’m not saying it’s not a good or holy thing to get dressed up, but we do need to recognize the social performance aspect of dressing up. It’s a way of covering ourselves so that what people see are only our best parts.  Hiding under our masks is our real self just waiting to be known but being real is hard to be.  I heard a student once say that when they do try and be their real self, they feel simultaneously “Too much for people, and too little at the same time.” Oof, when I heard that I felt those words like a punch to the gut.

So instead of being too much for people to handle, or letting them down by not living up to their expectations,  we hide our true selves under the mask of politeness, professionalism, and we self-police our every word and action, second guessing ourselves, dwelling on conversations and interactions long after they have finished. Did I say too much? Did I talk enough? Was that question too forward of me? Did I make enough eye contact? Did I offer a firm enough handshake? The insecurity is an endless cycle we can find ourselves in, until we are tossing and turning at night in bed kicking ourselves for what we did or did not do, what we did or did not say.

But my hope is that we all have those places in our lives where we can get off the performance stage, take off our masks and let our walls come down.  For many of us pet owners here, I’d imagine that the pets in our lives are ones who invite us into that authentic real space.  I know that when I get home from a tough day of performing at work, there is no feeling in the world like vulnerably collapsing on the couch with my dog Gracie, or letting my silly side show as I get down on the ground and play with her. I even do that dog voice with her, you know the one, I’m not going to do it here, but you know what I’m talking about.

It’s a liberating experience to finally let my real self out at the end of the day and to be met with such love and excitement from Gracie. And I think in this way, our pets reveal to us in small and sometimes very large ways, the nature of God. I’m not saying God is like our pets, but rather that our pets invite us to experience one of the closest encounters of God’s radical love and acceptance that we can have on this earth. Coming home from work always reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son, where the Father runs to meet his child who had taken his inheritance, only to squander it and come limping back home.  On those days when I feel like I am limping home, Gracie is like that father who without fail greets me excitedly at the door.

Our pets don’t suffer from the curse of self-consciousness, they are just always their real selves. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to be our real selves around them.  In a similar way, at Holy Trinity and Grace Episcopal, we are two church communities that want to invite your real self to be known.  If you are seeking a place outside of your home with your pet where you can be real with other people and be accepted and loved for who God created you to be, then consider this your invitation to check us out.  I can’t promise that as a Church we will always get this right, but what I can promise is that we are trying. We are trying to be a community that practices radical hospitality welcoming everyone regardless of where your from, the color of your skin, who you love or marry, your gender identity, your age, your ability, your documentation status, who you vote for, or even how you feel about organized church or religion. We want you to know that you are welcome here, we celebrate who God created you to be, and we will promise to do our best to create space for your real self to be known.

Being known. It’s almost scary to think about, almost like it feels like being found out, but the truth is that God knows every part of you that you try to hide from the world. Those parts of yourself that you think are unlovable, unredeemable, unmanageable, God knows those parts and blesses them. Self-consciousness may be a weight around each of our necks, but having places to lay that weight down is necessary. So whether its with your pet at home after a long day, or here at church, trust that your real self is who God created you to be, and whenever you allow your real self to be known it’s an act of praise and thanksgiving to God who fearfully and wonderfully made you. It may be the curse of self-consciousness that sets us apart from other animals, but it’s these other animals that set us back to our real selves and reveal who God is to us.

Today is a day of blessing for those animals, so in closing I’d like to offer to you this blessing by Jan Richardson, it’s called Blessing the Animals:

You who created them and called them good: bless again these creatures who come to us as a blessing fashioned of fur or feather or fin, formed of flesh that breathes with your own breath, that you have made from sheer delight, that you have given in dazzling variety. Bless them who curl themselves around our hearts, who twine themselves through our days, who companion us in our labor, who call us to come and play. Bless them who will never be entirely tamed and so remind us that you love what is wild, that you rejoice in what lives close to the earth, that your heart beats in the heart of these creatures you have entrusted to our care. Amen.